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Posted on Feb 28, 2022 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

Never Give Up! Never Surrender! The Tin Can Sailors Have Their Finest Hour in ‘The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors’. Book Review

Never Give Up! Never Surrender! The Tin Can Sailors Have Their Finest Hour in ‘The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors’. Book Review

Ray Garbee

The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary WWII Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour.  Author: James D. Hornfischer, adapted by Doug Murray. Drawn by Steven Sanders. Colored by Matt Soffe. Lettered by Rob Steen. Publisher: Dead Reckoning, Annapolis, Maryland. Price $ 29.95

James D. Hornfischer wrote the definitive book on the naval battle off Samar – The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors. Published by Bantam Books in 2004, Hornfischer recounts the tale off an outgunned force of U.S. Navy sailors stoically enduring all that the Japanese Navy could throw at them in a daylight surface action.

The battle should have been the big gun shootout the Navy’s battleship admirals had sought for years. Instead, a support group of escort carriers, destroyers and destroyer escorts faced off against capital ships of the Imperial Japanese Navy, including the powerful battleship Yamato. In the balance hung the fate of the invasion of Leyte.  


You’d think it would make an epic movie, but sweeping naval battles don’t seem to lend themselves to the cinematic art form. The closest we ever got were a couple of documentaries on The History Channel. But the folks at Dead Reckoning, an imprint of the Naval Institute Press aimed to bridge that gulf between book and film by transforming Hornfischer’s detailed tome into a 208-page graphic novel – The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors.

Adapted by Doug Murray, the book takes Hornfischer’s narrative and condenses it down to a 208-page work. The format allows for the authors to convey the experience through a visual medium. The book does a good job presenting the action in a way that the reader can easily can follow.

The tactical situation is conveyed through the use of plots showing the relative position of ships.

The blend of text and imagery depicts the key moments of the battle as well as the controversies surrounding multiple command decisions made by various admirals across the US task forces. While Admiral Halsey’s decision to steam north to engage the Japanese carriers is well known, Admiral Felix Stump comes in for some criticism for not better supporting Taffy 3 during the battle. (This may be due to presenting the events from the perspective of the those ‘tin can sailors’. Stump had to play the cards he’d been dealt, and he certainly had a successful career following the battle.)

The maps and graphics work to place events into a context that is relatable to the reader.

At times, the book certainly puts the ‘graphic’ into the graphic novel. William Tecumseh Sherman in known for the statement “war is hell”. As the unarmored ships take damage, the artists don’t shy away from depicting the human cost of war in both death and injury. It’s a sobering reminder that a ship is a vessel that holds the lives of her crew as well as an instrument of combat.

The artists didn’t shy away from depicting the brutal nature of war.

The physical book is well executed. You might associate the term graphic novel with comic book. But this is a book meant to endure.  It’s a hard bound volume with heavyweight glossy paper. The artwork by the team of Sanders, Soffe and Rob Steen is well done. The book conveys both the size of 20th Century naval battles as both spanning many square miles of ocean, while simultaneously being an intimate affair of a ship’s crew at action stations.

The format is an easy read, and is accessible. The book will appeal to those wishing to learn more of the naval battle of Samar, but not ready to dive into the original five-hundred-page tome. The occasionally graphic depiction of wounds may make this unsuitable for younger readers, but it’s on par with depictions of violence in other graphic novels, and you can’t argue that the depiction is gratuitous as it’s a fairly honest depiction of men under fire.  

Clearly the book has struck a chord with readers, as Dead Reckoning is already into it’s second print run. I found it to be a refreshing read. It’s a medium which brings the opportunity to expose a new group of readers to the history that they might not pick up from the original book. If you appreciate the work of Art Spiegelman’s ‘Maus’ or the works of Frank Miller and Alan Moore, you’ll find this retelling of The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors an engaging read.